CPEC: The case for the western route

China has proposed CPEC to develop its underdeveloped areas, while Pakistan is depriving its underdeveloped areas under the pretext of security

Pakistan is supposed to be a federation, where the federating units should have judicious share of national resources. Developmental projects are instruments for mobilizing economy and uplifting masses.  They not only provide employment opportunities but can also result in national integration. The effect of development projects of national level can be gauged from the fruits that railroad construction has blessed United States with. United States, in its current integrated form, exists because of the rail-road revolution that connected one disparate end of the country to the other. It facilitated transport of raw materials from one end to the more industrialized part of the country. China is keeping its mammoth population in peace because of its massive investment in infrastructure. Infrastructure development, along with providing constant employment opportunities, also ensures equal economic dividends.

The dilemma with distribution of economic developmental projects in Pakistan is that they are always concentrated in some parts or regions of the country. Starting from partial polices of the Ayub regime, the injudicious distribution of developmental projects has never seen an end. The western-trained and western-hired economic and policy advisers of Ayub Khan believed in naked to the bones capitalism. ‘Functional utility of inequity’ and ‘social utility of greed’ were two theories that formed the cornerstones of Ayub’s developmental projects allocation. The first one asserted that by creating havens of development and concentrating all growth in narrowly defined geographical areas, the economic growth can be skyrocketed. The other naively believes that creating an artificial rich and luxurious class at the top ladder of economy will motivate competition and thus will result in increased economic activity. Thanks to these policies, we had the clichéd twenty-two families and these policies further bore their fruit in the form of transforming East Pakistan into Bangladesh.

Unfortunately the Pakistani state is persistent in its insistence on functional utility of inequality in allocation of developmental projects. CPEC, which China is interested in to elevate its eastern provinces of Xinxiang at par with other parts of the country, in terms of economic development, has provided a new tool to the advocates of concentrated development of parts of Punjab. The contradictions can’t be more ironic, given that China has proposed this project to develop its underdeveloped areas while Pakistan is making case for depriving its underdeveloped areas of their due share in the project under the pretext of security and lack of economic activity. What is ironic, on a completely new level, is the argument from Pakistani state that since the underdeveloped provinces of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Balochistan are insecure so we can’t take up development in those regions. Meanwhile, China’s main aim for CPEC is to fight militancy in the underdeveloped region of Xinxiang.

What is missed by the Pakistanis state in its jaundiced policies is that CPEC is not a project for facilitating already developed zones. It is meant for initiating economic development and carving out new economic zones. If this logic is accepted, then the western route of CPEC is the only viable route. No two cities of Pakhtoonkhwa are connected via rail and no motorway is laid in Balochistan. On 28th May, APC was called and it was decided that the western route will be developed before the eastern route. But the Pakistani state, in its usual reversal of motives, opted to mislead people of the smaller provinces through its cosmetic measures. While 667 billion rupees are allocated for Lahore-Karachi motorway, the highways which are being developed in name of CPEC in Balochistan, and were inaugurated by the PM, cost less than 30 billion rupees. The Lahore-Islamabad section has been completed at the cost of multi-hundred billion rupees while it already has GT road and a railway track.

Projects such as CPEC are bound by Constitution to be discussed in Council of Common Interests but even after two years, no such meeting has been called; and the matter of disparate fund allocations to the two routes is hushed over and swept under the carpet. When Chinese President came to Pakistan last year and signed multiple MoUs, it was reported that out of 46 billion dollars’ worth of projects, projects worth 45 billion dollars are going to be established in Punjab. The western route is reduced to a set of highways with no special economic or industrial zones.

The deliberate silence and secrecy over allocation of funds and the absurd claims of equal development of eastern and western route is going to further increase the mistrust among provinces. It’s not only the right of small provinces to have its due share in such massive projects, but it is also incumbent upon the state to find ways to ward off extremist and separatist tendencies by investing in infrastructure and economic development of regions where it is needed the most.

Hurmat Ali Shah is a freelance writer interested in intersection of culture, politics and society. He can be reached at hurmata.shah@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook 

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